Sunday, October 15, 2006

Somebody else's baby

The Detroit Tigers are in the World Series. Every White Sox fan knows it could've easily been the White Sox.

Ultimately, the 2006 White Sox died from neglect. Not from the bullpen, not from the starting pitching, not from the unexpected bad luck of sharing a division with a couple of teams on Missions from God.

They died because, in his haste to cement a second championship team, Kenny Williams forgot to have any backup plans. When Brian Anderson struggled at the plate, there was no major league caliber option to back him up. When Scott Podsednik struggled at the plate and in the field, there was no option to replace him except Pablo Ozuna.

They died because of gratitude. When the bullpen struggled, blood flowed, and Riske and McDougal were brought in to (mostly) stem the bleeding -- but not until Cliff Politte got 30 innings to blow multiple ballgames before earning his release. One has to think that Podsednik not being replaced had more to do with his homer off Brad Lidge last October than any realistic assessment of his contributions. His defensive drop-off made him possibly the worst regular position player in the league.

They died because of stubbornness. Boone Logan got far more opportunities to show he wasn't ready that any rationality justified. Anderson, despite his manifest problems hitting lefty pitching, was platooned, deepening his slump. The use of Cotts and Logan as LOOGys despite poor performance in that specific role was stubbornly repeated.

Now comes the offseason, the great time to blog because, well, you can't be proven wrong for six months.

Good luck to the Tigers. But we all can't help but think it shoulda been our time again. In baseball, unless you're the Yankees, the opportunity not seized doesn't usually come again for a long time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Capitalize on this good forture

When Joe Crede broke his finger last year, he was a lifetime .251/.300/.428 hitter. Given the high expectations, that would officially qualify as a major disappointment.

Since he came off the DL on September 10, 2005, Joe Crede has now played in 85 games. In that span he's hit .320/.354/.560.

Here's one way of looking at it: double his last 81 games and you get:

34 homers
118 RBI
28 walks (nobody is perfect)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Suffer not your neighbor's affliction

As midnight approached on May 27, the Detroit Tigers were coming off a win off the Indians and were an incredible 35-14. Virtually everything was going right for the team, easily leading the league in ERA and scoring runs in bunches. One more game against the Indians, who they'd been dominating, followed by stretch against the Yankees, Boston, the White Sox, and Toronto, gave the Tigers an opportunity to quiet the last naysayers.

The Tigers have now gone 3-9 in the last 12 games, being outscored 70-42. Three things have gone wrong for the Tigers:
  • Their schedule suddenly got a lot tougher,
  • They started suffering injuries (Maroth, Monroe, I-Rod), and
  • Their mixed-bag bullpen started giving up a lot of runs, capped by last night's meltdown.
They have managed to cling to first place mostly because the White Sox have not played Whack-A-Mole with them quite enough yet. The wheels aren't off yet, but the Detroit lug nuts look to be loose or missing for 2006. This is not to say the Tigers aren't long-term contenders; the wealth of young pitching plus more coming (and Zumaya eventually moving into a key role) augurs well for their future -- if Leyland doesn't Dusty-Baker the young pitchers first, that is. On the other hand, Polanco, Ordonez, I-Rod, and Guillen aren't spring chickens, and the latter three have terrifying injury histories (which are the reasons they're all in Motown in the first place), so keep in mind the possibility that this team could be a mirage.

Indians followers are amazed at the team's floudering at 29-31. "With all that talent," they ask, "how can they be under .500?" The answer, of course, is that the pitching staff isn't the same one they had last year, and in virtually every case, the replacement in 2006 is worse than the 2005 role-player. It hasn't helped that Cliff Lee has regressed to ordinary, but Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson simply haven't pitched well, and the smoke-and-mirrors 2005 bullpen is scattered and the replacement just hasn't gelled. From the perspective of a White Sox fan, the Indians' decision to use Aaron Boone at third and the Broussard/Blake hot starts should stretch out the playing time for three candidates for long-term replacement, and lead the Indians to avoid some tough decisions they should make for 2007. Of course, Boone's supposed heir apparent, super-prospect Andy Marte, is not hitting at Buffalo (.256/.324/.363). Is it possible the Crisp trade, surrendering Crisp and bullpen handyman David Riske, will turn out to be the supposed "2005 Major League Executive of the Year's" serious mistake? We can only hope.

Game 60: Caught between a rock and a hard place (37-23)

White Sox 5, Indians 4. Brian Anderson's running catch at the wall in the top of the 8th denied Travis Hafner of an RBI double, and Jermaine Dye's two-run single gave the White Sox a 5-4 win.

Brian Anderson if 19 for 123 with 6 extra base hits and 16 walks. Normally this would earn him a trip back to Charlotte, but given that he's a very good centerfielder on a team that doesn't have anybody else who is competent there, he has to play, which Guillen announced yesterday. Mackowiak gave it his best shot, but his being overmatched has cost the White Sox at least a couple of games already.

Anderson will almost certainly start hitting at some point. There really isn't anything magical about the majors outside of the hitters' minds (and their paychecks, obviously). Before the season, PECOTA had him at .269/.329/.468, rather than .154/.254/.268. Even if he does turn it around, he will post an ugly rookie season no matter what, as hitting .300 the rest of the way would still leave him somewhere in the low .200s.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Game 53: Heartbreak's a soul shaker (33-20)

Between being sick this week and the pathetic efforts turned in by Garcia and Contreras over the last few days, it pains me to comment at all. So I won't.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Game 50: I don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on the Tribe all day (33-17)

White Sox 11, Cleveland 0. Take a moment on Memorial Day to remember the many fallen.

In my house, today, not much went right on a holiday. I'm laid up with a bad cold, woozy, and barely coherent (translation: even less so than normal). On the baseball diamond, just about everything that could go right, went right, at least for the White Sox. Javier Vazquez brought his best stuff, Cliff Lee didn't, Jim Thome slammed two home runs, and the Indians managed two singles in the entire game.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Game 48: You take the biscuit

Toronto 3, White Sox 2, 11 innings. The White Sox stranded 13 baserunners in a game they should have won.

After the game, Ozzie made noises about maybe sending Anderson to the minors and bringing up another pitcher. I will say it once, I will say it a thousand times: no major league team needs 12 pitchers. EVER. Carrying 7 men in the bullpen just encourages overmanaging, excessive pitching changes, and ensures that half your bullpen is bad. Note to Ozzie: stop using pitchers for one batter, go back to the way you managed the team before, it worked fine. I don't care if you're facing Cleveland or whomever. Do not cripple the offensive bench so you can carry worthless 1-batter pitchers.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Game 47: Take it Easy

Toronto 8, White Sox 2. Toronto beat up on Freddy Garcia in a rout. The only White Sox highlight would be the wasted two-homer game by Paul Konerko. The White Sox continue to struggle with lefthanded starting pitchers. Fortunately, Casey Janssen and Ty Taubenheim were born as northpaws.

The Tigers continue to win, beating the rosin out of the Cleveland Indians last night. But, please remember it's a long season. Scoreboard-watching in May is pretty much pointless, unless somebody is running away and hiding. The Tigers have done their best to do this, but they have managed to hide only from the Twins, Indians, and Royals; the White Sox hang in with their .660 record. Until late July or so rolls around, we simply don't really know what constitutes "help". At this point a year ago, the Indians were just about where they are now, and so were the White Sox (within a couple of games). The Tigers could suffer crippling misfortune and the Indians get hot at any point, in which case the Tiger rout last night would turn out to be welcome. Despite the wrist-slitting depression that accompanies any Sox loss, they are still 5-2 over the last 7 games and 15 games over .500, playing .660 baseball overall.

  • MLB announced their suspensions for the melee, with Barrett getting 10 games, Anderson 5, White Sox third base coach Joey Cora 2, and A. J. Pierzynski a $2,000 fine. Now, for Pierzynski, who makes $4M a year, this fine amounts to about as much as a night at the movies for the rest of us. Effectively, MLB has decided that the Cubs are 59% responsible for the brawl and the White Sox 41%, or, if you count the ejections, the White Sox lose about 7-person-games and the Cubs 12-person-games, or63-47. This is, of course, ridiculous and insulting, but it continues the long tradition of screwing the White Sox when other teams incite fights, most notably the five game suspension given to Jack McDowell for being assaulted by Mark Whiten, in contrast to the walk granted Nolan Ryan v. Robin Ventura in pretty much exactly the same circumstances.
  • Speaking of Pierzynski, I know he's widely disliked for being mouthy, but the number of comments on the Internet suggesting that punching him, hitting him with pitched balls, crashing into him, or otherwise generally advocating violence is either in extremely poor taste or disgusting. Angels fans in particular: all the man did was run to first on a dropped third strike, and keep running on a tag by a fielder who neglected to put the ball in his glove. How that warrants Kelvim Escobar's intentional HBP is beyond me. Do NOT tell me it wasn't intentional; Pierzynski is the only batter Escobar has hit in 55 innings this year. The odds that out of 233 plate apperances, he would accidentally hit the one man he has a history against, and on the third pitch he threw him, are ridiculously long. How Escobar avoided an ejection or suspension is beyond me. To all who advocate plunking him or punching him: shame on you. If you don't like him, hell, heckle him. He simply is not Osama bin Laden.
  • Much has been made of the weak schedules faced by the White Sox and Tigers, but this ignores the technical problem that this is in part because the White Sox and Tigers have played and beaten those teams. The White Sox opponents are actually 2 games over .500 in games not involving the White Sox so far. The team's weighted pace (that is, projecting their current win/loss rates against the balance of the schedule) is still 104 wins. They won't meet this (because they won't go 19-0 against the Tigers).
  • The White Sox have apparently decided to move 3B prospect Josh Fields to the outfield. Fields has been the core of the offense of a team playing runaway baseball (albeit now on a 3-game losing streak) and sports a .323/.408/.568 line in his third pro season. Beware of him, I say: he strikes out a LOT. The 9 stolen bases say he's decently fast, and while they've talked about this OF thing, he's still playing 3B.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The trouble with the maples (and they're quite convinced they're right)

Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus, in his recent chat, showed what happens to analysts who look at numbers but not the reasons for them. Two excerpts:

Joe (35th and Lowe): White Sox: Legitimate 100-105 win team, or have they just gotten pretty lucky over the past 14 months? Jay Jaffe: Once again, the WHite Sox are playing above their heads; they're +4.7 in the third-order Wins department according to our Adjusted standings. They've been more than a bit lucky over the course of that span, sure, but I do see them as about a 90-95 win team, particularly so long as Contreras and Thome remains healthy.

As I understand third-order wins, they are extrapolating from basic statistics and adjusting for quality of opponents. In other words, if all else is equal, what do the hits, walks, homers, etc., project as for wins. I suppose they have studies showing that their methodology is a sound prediction method, but as far as the White Sox are concerned, they've been basically, insistently wrong for over 200 games now. Further, having followed all of those games, I just can't see where the "luck events" occurred. Jaffe and crew should consider the possibility that their methodology is all approximate, that the real game of baseball is not played by APBA cards, and that when their prediction models can't account for performance, there is a 50% chance that the problem lies in the prediction model.

Nick from WH (SF): What do you make of Jhonny Peralta's slow start? Is he still the real deal? Jay Jaffe: I'm a huge Peralta fan; in fact I think I picked him as my AL MVP in the staff preseason picks. Which is probably the problem right there.

Where to start. Peralta's 20 homers last season should have come with an asterisk: (* Almost all hit off poor pitching). A look at Peralta's pitchers-faced profile showed that a disproportionate number of Misplaced H's home runs came off mop-up pitchers in massacres. Now, there's nothing wrong with this, but expecting that sort of performance to translate to the 3-hole in competitive games was naive, and showed that "one of the five best GMs in the game", whose superior team is now struggling with .500, didn't have deep insight into the true nature of his shortstop.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Game 46: Washing machine (31-15)

Chicago 3, Oakland 2. The White Sox completed their first three-game home sweep of the A's in almost twenty years when Bobby Jenks struck out three, getting the last four in a row, to close out a solid Mark Buerhle outing backed by great defensive plays by Joe Crede and Jermaine Dye. (Dye later dropped a fly ball to take the luster off his game.)

The big story for the series was supposed to be Frank Thomas' return to the scene of virtually all of his career. Thomas was really, really good, the best he's been all year, with 4 hits in 9 at bats, including a couple of homers, four walks, and a HBP. It didn't matter. He was upstaged by a squeeze bunt, a home-run derby, and Buehrle&Jenks.

  • Bobby Jenks is one nasty so-and-so. Jason Kendall is very difficult to strike out, but he nailed him in the 8th with the tying and go-ahead runners in scoring position. That gives him 17 strikeouts in May in less than 11 innings. He's been walking a batter almost every game, but not today.
  • The White Sox now have had six consecutive sellouts. That has never happened before.
  • After an off-day tomorrow comes a visit back on the plastic, to the so-called "Rogers Centre" in Toronto. The Tigers draw the Indians, who desperately need to kill them. Should be fun.
  • Oh, and when is Michael Barrett getting suspended?

What a drag it is...

ESPN has spent the entire night blathering about "what's wrong with Randy Johnson". It's his mechanics. It's his mental approach. It's a slump.

The man turns 43 on September 10th. He's old, that's all. Old.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Get a little action in

  1. A. J. Pierzynski did nothing wrong on the second inning collision. Michael Barrett was blocking the plate, set up for a tag, and the conventional play in professional baseball is a collision in that situation.
  2. The Cub pitcher's assertion that Pierzynski should have known that the ball was ten feet from Barrett assumes that Pierzynski has eyes in the back of his head. If Pierzynski had shied from the collision, Barrett would not have granted some kind of courtesy on the tag.
  3. Pierzynski did nothing wrong after the collision. The umpire had not yet signalled safe (even thought Pierzynski had already touched the plate twice). The exagerrated thump was just an exclamation mark, one that Cub fans should be familiar with after ten years of Sammy's "hop".
  4. Pierzynski did nothing wrong in attempting to go after his helmet. Some Cubpologists asserted on the internet that the helmet was not in the direction he said it was, but in fact, the replay clearly shows it did.
  5. Pierzynski's action when struck in the face was to back away. There is no evidence he did anything confrontational from that point forward.
  6. Pierzynski did show considerable emotion on his way to the clubhouse after his ejection.
  7. Apparently Pierzynski was ejected immediately and Barrett only after long discussion.
This raises four serious questions about major league baseball:
  1. Why did the home plate umpire wait for the thump before signalling safe when Pierzynski had clearly touched the plate more than once before?
  2. Why did the umpires eject Pierzynski at all? He did nothing wrong. He has been remarkably sportsmanlike about the starkly wrongful ejection by umpires whose handling of the situation looked incompetent.
  3. Why did the umpires try to avoid ejecting another player who had punched a player in the mouth in full view of the home plate umpire?
  4. Will MLB have the guts to admit (1-7) and that the umpires' ejection of Pierzynski was a mistake?
It also raises two serious questions about ESPN and the Chicago media:
  1. Why were Pierzynski's actions discussed at all? He didn't do anything wrong?
  2. Why, after defending Pierzynski at length, did ESPN yapper Jeff Brantley say, if he were pitching tomorrow, he would hit Pierzynski? WTF?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Crush 'em like so many paper beer cups

While the supremacy of the free world is being decided at 35th and the Dan Ryan, FOX is broadcasting to most of the nation a game between two obscure teams called, I think, the "Mitts" and the "Yank-mes". Now, from what I hear, the "Yank-mes" have an outfield populated by rookies, and an infield populated by, shall we say, players with reputations for sullenness.

I will probably have to surrender my White Sox fan party card for this, but I have to confess, I just don't hate the Chicago Cubs. I don't like them, either; they exist in that vast nebula of baseball teams about which I have no opinion. That's the way it is. Right now, they are The Team Playing The White Sox, though, which always moves them to Honorary #30 on my top-to-bottom list.

  • Based on a seven-game road trip where he hit .238/.217/.429, some people are already writing The New Joe Crede's obituary. I say, check the splits. Joe doesn't hit well in Minny, Tampa, or on plastic in general. I won't speculate on why this is true -- there may not be a bigger BS dump in baseball than theories on offense on Astroturf (or its relatives) other than to say that the turf probably favors fast slap hitters, which is the opposite of what Joe Crede is.
  • Peter Gammons called the Tiger pitching the best in baseball yesterday in his ESPN blog (pay site). Now, this is an defensible point; but it seems when Peter Gammons says something, it's jumping the shark. Cincinnati slaughtered the Tiger pitching staff. Coincidence?
  • Outgoing Sewanee economics professor J. C. Bradbury has web-published a study suggesting that pitching dilution, not steroids, is responsible for the home run epidemic of the last 20 years. He extrapolates a Stephen Jay Gould argument that decreased variance in statistics implies increase in overall quality when you are operating at the extreme end of the normal curve. Since the hit batter rate tracks the home run rate reasonably, it's logical to presume that pitching quality dilution is the primary motivator. All this sounds correct, but as the comments to Bradbury's blog say, there is a problem here. Technically, I think the best way to put it is, nobody knows if the performance distribution curve is wide sense stationary or egodic. Practically, this means that the observation that the strike zone is smaller than it was 20 years ago and the prevalence today of Chet-Lemon-style plate crowders could be affecting both home run rates and HBP rates. Further, one could argue that smaller parks not only increase the home run rate, they encourage teams to flirt with wild power pitchers. Personally, I don't buy the steroids-as-cause argument alone, because power hitting in baseball is not purely a function of strength, and because pitchers were also users too.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Game 41: While you see a chance take it (27-14)

White Sox 6, Cubs 1. Greg Maddux was an unhappy as Michael Finley at a crotch-punching contest today over the home plate umpire's strike zone, Konerko drove in a bunch of runs, Thome hit an opposite-field dinger, and Mark Buehrle two-hit the Cubs for a White Sox team returned from a 3-4 seven-game trip to outer space. A good start to the three-game insipid fiasco that is "interleague play".

Three notes for right now:
  • Randy Johnson struggles again for the Yankees. Media wonders what's wrong with him. What's wrong with Randy is he's older than I am.
  • Is the Cub bench so bad the best they can do for DH is Michael Barrett?
  • Shane Victorino took over for Aaron Rowand when Rowand broke his nose. Victorino is hitting .373. What are the odds Kenny Williams tries to get Aaron back?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Come inside, come inside

Whoever scheduled back-to-back series for the White Sox has a cruel sense of humor, with the four games in the HHHDome being following by three games in the Tropi-Can.

Tropicana is another bizarre building, but it has one interesting feature, a real, full dirt infield. I never have liked the sliding-pit ballparks, and have never understood why this is even legal.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Game 37: There I was with my back to the wall... (25-12)

White Sox 7, Twins 3. Chris Widger actually hit the baseball, as did Joe Crede and Scott Podsednik. They all had three hits, and all actually hit the ball out of the park. Freddy Garcia threw 6 2/3 decent innings, giving up 3 runs, and Cotts and Politte closed out the Twins. Podsednik, virtually given up for dead a couple of weeks ago, is now a .300 hitter. The White Sox win the final game and earn a split on Monday afternoon.

It must be agonizing to be a Twins fan right now. Just about 24 hours ago, they were 6 1/2 games out, and had just tagged Mark Buerhle for 7 runs in the first inning to take a 7-3 lead. A sweep would put them back into the thick of the fight. But the Twin pitching betrayed them, as it has all year when Santana wasn't on the mound, while Buehrle found the root of his problem. The White Sox outscored the Twins 13-3 over the next 17 innings and left Minneapolis with perhaps the most satisfying Twin split in years. In 24 hours, the Twins are 8 1/2 back again, right where they were Thursday night, with 4 games off the schedule.

I suppose, if the Twins fans had been told they'd be neck and neck with the Indians on May 15, and 7 1/2 games from the Tigers and 8 1/2 games away from the White Sox, they would naturally have assumed they'd be the ones on first, with the White Sox having fulfilled Joe Sheehan's expectations and vanished off the face of the pennant race. How strange this season has been for everybody but the White Sox, who are the only team in the division living up to preseason expectations. (That ignores the Tigers, who are more than living up, they're blowing their expectations away.)

I suppose winning three straight division titles (2002-2004) has its consolations, and this Liriano kid looks like a real monster, but the thought that the Twins' micro-dynasty has probably ended has to eat at a true Twin believer. You can't just expect the team to just rise again, not for a while at least; especially not if the GM keeps signing made-to-be-Royals players like Batista and White.

Game 36: I can read your mind (24-12)

White Sox 9, Minnesota 7. First inning: Hunter robs Thome of 3-run jack, Dye follows one out later with 3-run jack. Then the White Sox play Keystone Kops afield, Buehrle battered for 7 runs (8 unearned) in the first. The White Sox scratched and clawed out six more runs over the next few innings, and the Twins got nothing. White Sox turn triple play. Jenks strikes out the side in the ninth. Just another day at the office.

During the Twin merry-go-round in the first, I was convinced either they were stealing signs or Buehrle was tipping pitches. The ESPN K-Zone system was showing the Twins bashing pitches on the inside corner, outside corner, four inches outside... on the first pitch. It was like they knew what was coming. As it turns out, they did. Post-game reports were that Buehrle was tipping his pitches with his glove position.

This could explain Buehrle's mini-slump over the last few games. If so, the Twins got a little over-eager and let the secret out. If so, let's all give a nice, big hand to them for getting greedy.

The White Sox have to get used to the fact that they'll be microscopically examined by everybody as long as they are on top.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

You can tell everyone I'm a damn disgrace

There is a parallel here between Ozzie and Mark Cuban. Cuban has been fined something close to a million dollars for bitching about the quality (or lack thereof) of NBA officiating. Cuban has been treated like an out-of-control lunatic by the national media, frothing at the mouth every time the refs do something negative to his Mavericks. This ignores the simple fact that, in my opinion, Cuban has been absolutely spot-on right about everything he says. He has made specific recommendations on how to improve officiating, including not rotating everybody, including the bad officials, through key playoff games. Cuban doesn't go along with the pro-wrestling mentality (manage the TV ratings through game officiating), and the major media, instead of exposing the NBA for the hypocritical sham it is, just pretend Cuban is just a lunatic and the NBA is on the up-and-up. (Note: I am *not* a Maverick fan.)

The same thing happens with Ozzie. And it snowballs. Because Ozzie's mouth is great copy, the fact that what Ozzie says is right is getting lost. Ozzie (and Cooper!) got tossed on a seemingly disingenuous basis (arguing balls and strikes -- A checked swing argument with the 1B umpire is not what was meant by "arguing balls and strikes"). The national media story is Ozzie Goes Ballistic, which is typical BS coverage, like the Cuban coverage.

Umpiring errors are rarely mentioned in game stories from the AP, and if they are, it's couched in "objective" language about "controversial" calls and words like "replays appeared to show". If Mark Cuban or Ozzie Guillen can't draw attention to patterns of error, then nothing will ever change -- because the sportswriters are lapdogs everywhere outside New York and Boston -- and we'll have to put up this ever-declining quality of game officiating.

The truth is, baseball, like basketball, is a commercialized amusement. It is run mostly to entertain people. It is theater. We who take it too seriously forget this, and want the better team to prevail, not the better story. Cuban is so rich he'll just go on speaking his mind (or running his mouth). Ozzie's fine will get paid by Jerry Reinsdorf. And so it goes.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Game 35: Deep rotation mutilation

Tonight is an example of why I get totally blue in the face angry when people tell me how great MLB umpires are. The home plate ump clearly gave Radke an expanded strike zone tonight, pitch after pitch, keeping him in a game, pitches Vazquez didn't get. Then the Twins get four gift runs because the umpires either weren't paying attention or just stunk up the place. First, the first base umpire misses a close call on a chopper to the pitcher, neglecting to notice Castillo running inside the baseline and claiming Konerko came off the bag on the tag and tagged him late. It was a close call, but it was probably wrong, and it leads to a run.

Then both the home plate umpire and first base umpire miss a strikeout when Cuddyer is hit by a pitch he swung at. Ozzie and Don Cooper get tossed, Vazquez gets charged with a bunch of runs, and just to put the icing on the cake, Radke trots out with a 5-4 lead and immediately gets multiple gift calls on pitches off the plate to put an exclamation point on the game, telling me they don't have a clue how bad they screwed up. Unbelievable.

Now, somebody somewhere will say there's a parallel with the ALCS last year. Maybe. But the umpires didn't just toss Scioscia and his pitching coach.

Game 34: Knock me down, it’s [probably] all in vain (23-11)

So the Twins built up a four-game series in the Hump as their do-or-die. This is probably true for them, mired (until yesterday) 8 1/2 games down in mid-May. They sent Johan Santana to the mound against Jon Garland, and it turned out to be a 10-1 mismatch. Garland got hammered for the fourth time in seven starts and, as the Tribune points out, since his 8-0 start, he's been back to being Average Jon. Sadly, this makes the off-season long-term contract look pretty unfortunate; of course, with what Kris Benson types are making, and given it's a long season, things could get better. Consider, ultimately, that what matters is the White Sox record in games he's started (3-4). Add to this the fact that yesterday was the "get-used-to" game of 2006 for the extraterrestial Metrodome, and the fact that no team was going to get to Johan Santana the way he was dealing, and this one just goes in the "sure loss" category. I don't care how good you are, games where you spot start for your de facto #1 starter (Wednesday) against a defending division champion, and games where you face the real AL Cy Young award winner (Colon's selection last season was bizarre) are not games you'll win without extraordinary effort.

After the skunking, Minnesota has gained a game and now stands 7 1/2 back. The real story here is that the Twins have almost caught the suddenly flailing Indians, who dropped a game to the Tigers last night. It's still too early to start rooting against the Tigers in these intradivisional games, just a bit -- the Indians are still far more dangerous in the long run.

With Contreras on the mend, the White Sox facing three somewhat more favorable matchups (any matchup with a Minny pitcher not named "Johan Santana" is more favorable), and bullpen geezer Jeff Nelson making a return to live games in Charlotte, these last two games still feel like aberrations.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In the air tonight

Random notes on a rainout day:
  • The White Sox are supposedly calling up Augie Montero. Take a look at his splits. You have to give this guy a chance. It probably won't work, but he's holding batters to a .143/.241/.186 line, so I don't know he's got anything to prove in Charlotte.
  • Aaron Rowand broke his nose, Hideki Matsui injured his arm, Frank Thomas injured his leg. An ugly, nasty day.
  • Speaking of Frank, the Oakland A's website has a story saying Frank Thomas was starting to find his stroke before injuring his quad today running the bases. This is ridiculous. For a quick comparison, look at Frank Thomas' last 50 ab before today and Brian Anderson's last 50 ab. Anderson is a fine-fielding centerfielder, and on Monday night half the ESPN Baseball Tonight yappers wanted to send him to the minors. Thomas is a gimpy late-30s DH. (Admittedly, Thomas drew 3 walks today in a loss before getting hurt, but still, he's got to significantly out-hit a scuffling Brian Anderson to be "finding his stroke".)
  • I know ESPN has to love it, but the Boston-New York rubber match is now well over three hours and they are in the bottom of the 7th. This is what I hate about Red Sox-Yankee baseball, looooooong, tedious ballgames. The key problem I have with Baseball Prospectus brand of baseball is it is boring. The game needs risk to be exciting, the kind of risk you get from steals and triples. The work-the-pitcher, slow-pitch softball wannabe games that stretch toward 11pm EDT just bore me to tears. The good news is it saves us from the inanity of more Baseball Tonight, which would consist of, well, half an hour of analysis of the Yankee-Red Sox tilt and Barry Bonds' bases on balls.
  • Joe Morgan, discussing the heirs to Barry Bonds' home run chase, tiptoed around the question of why people don't like A-Rod either last night. Joe, we don't like him because from what we know, he seems to be a selfish, surly jerk. Steinbrenners' jabs are just gravy to us in the flyovers.
Now, the Twins. Thank god 8 1/2 games is a long way back.

Game 33: Always look on the bright side (23-10)

Game 33 was a train wreck, with cup-of-java rookie knuckleballer Charles Haeger walking everybody (including the Angel batboy) in a short 4 1/3 inning, 6-run (5 earned) stint that led to his relief and his demotion. Brian Anderson hit a three-run bomb as the White Sox clawed and scratched back to 6-5, only to lose 12-5 after a six-run Angel ninth. The Angels put a major league lineup on the field for Haeger, their first in at least a week.

Vince Galloro jumps all over my pet peeve of bullpen thrashing this morning. I agree. McCarthy is pulled for Cotts after a double in the ninth and the White Sox having indulged in the current intentional walk fetish to put Guerrero on. Cotts smokes Garret Anderson. Now Ozzie goes and gets Jenks, who doesn't have it. The main reason he went to get Jenks was Salmon is righthanded, and he's playing match-up. When Jenks gives up a couple of runs, Ozzie goes and gets lefthander Matt Thornton to pitch to Robb Quinlan and Jose Molina, righthanders. This leads (predictably) to four extra runs, because Thornton is a true LOOGY, and shouldn't be allowed to pitch to righthanders with large platoon splits like Quinlan. Cotts, on the other hand, is not a LOOGY, and should be allowed to face righthanders as needed. ("Where have you gone, Jeff Nelson? Bridgeport turns its lonely eyes to you." Nah, doesn't work.)

There are some good things about this little fiasco. First, the White Sox made the Angels work to win a game where they were fortunate enough to face a jittery rookie with a wild knuckleball. Second, BA got two hits and generally has looked competent at the plate lately. Third, Haeger was apparently an emergency option while McCarthy was being "stretched". Maybe -- just maybe -- Ozzie will figure out that Jenks is best used to start innings, too! Getting back to 6-5 against Ervin Santana and Brendan Donnelly is an accomplishment, and the game situation forced Scioscia to use Shields and Rodriguez, which may (or may not) pay dividends in the future.

Tonight, Kelvim The Vengeful goes against Jon Garland. One presumes that if Kelvim hits AJ again, he'll get tossed, but MLB has been remarkably lax with appropriate warnings in the past. If they do give a warning, naturally they'll play kindergarten teacher and warn everybody, regardless of history.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Game 32: Killing me softly (23-9)

The good news was the White Sox 9-1 trouncing of the Angels. The bad news was Jose Contreras going on the DL with a pinched sciatic nerve in his lower back. Contreras, named the "best pitcher in the American League" by two of the three ballplayer-turned-yappers on Baseball Tonight on Monday, will miss a couple of weeks. The White Sox called up 22-year-old knuckleball prodigy Charles Haeger to take his place, at least for now.

I am not optimistic. The odds are just kind of long for a knuckleball pitcher. Since Haeger's never been in the majors before, we don't have any matchup data, but we can check the matchups for Tim Wakefield, Steve Sparks, and Dennis Springer. They aren't encouraging, Guerrero and Anderson have mashed these kinds of guys.

But, if he does work out decently, his trade value will skyrocket.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Game 31: The doorway before them is barred (22-9)

The White Sox bullpen was almost perfect for three innings against the Royals to back up an uncharacteristic Mark Buehrle start, and Pablo Ozuna and Joe Crede provided the offense in a 3-2 White Sox win against the lowly Royals.
  • Buehrle just wasn't sharp at all, but until back-to-back home runs of a tiring Buehle in the sixth, the Royals couldn't take advantage. It took Buehrle 114 pitches to get through 6 innings. The White Sox couldn't do much with Mark Redman.
  • The only excitement in the first five innings was supplied when Mark Grudzielanek was called out on strikes in the fifth. (The plate umpire today was lenient with high and low pitches but wouldn't give either side the corners.) Grudz clearly said "bullshit" to the umpire as he stalked back to the dugout. Buddy Bell obviously said something worse, because Eric Cooper ejected him.
  • Pablo Ozuna hit a shocking one-out triple to deep left center field to drive in Widger and Anderson (who had singled) to tie the game. Ozuna was promptly erased on a blown suicide squeeze when Iguchi popped up to the pitcher. I am sure this decision will be second-guessed, given that Iguchi is hitting .331. The White Sox had three straight hits off Redman, and he seemed to be weakening, but ill-fated small ball gave him new life.
  • Cliff Politte sailed through the seventh and got one out in the eighth, but then what Ozuna giveth, he almost taketh back. Angel Berroa drove a fly ball to the warning track, but Ozuna got turned around and misplayed the ball into a double. Matt Thornton came on, popped up Aaron Guiel, and then Brandon McCarthy struck out Buck with a nasty curve over the inside corner. Who says the White Sox don't have a bullpen?
  • With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Thome doubled to left center. It was a fairly ordinary fly ball, but the Royals were playing that silly Ted Williams shift, and Thome poked two hits to that region. (This could be important if enough advance scouts saw it to reduce the shifting a bit.) The Royals mysteriously decided to walk Konerko to get to Crede. Now, with one out, this would be a defensible move. With two out, and Crede hitting .335 over the last 49 games, it's bizarre. Crede battled Elmet Dessens for what seemed like forever, fouling off multiple low-and-away offerings, then savagely ripped an inside fastball into left field to drive in the go-ahead run.
  • That set the stage for Bobby Jenks, on the hill for the first time since being charged with a blown save on Friday. Jenks struck out Matt Stairs with a knee-high fastball for the first out. He caught what appeared to be a break on a chopper to Uribe, whose throw the umpires said nipped Robinson at first. He blew Esteban German away for the last strike and the game was over.
Notes from the division race:
  • The Tigers were unlucky enough to draw Johan Santana today and he beat them 4-2. Ordonez hit a two-run shot to make the game semi-interesting. The White Sox now lead by 2 1/2 games.
  • Travis Hafner is playing for the Indians today. The Cleveland announcers say he has the flu. Eric Wedge drives his players like oarmen in a Roman galley. This will come back to haunt him.
  • The 2005 White Sox were even better, 24-7 after 31 games.
One other note: Vince Galloro wants Boone Logan gone. He joins the huge chorus of naysayers. I almost bought his reasoning until he went off on McCarthy a little. McCarthy had some rotten luck in a couple of games -- allowing opposite field singles is not a character defect. The reason McCarthy doesn't go back down is he has nothing left to learn in AAA. His last stint there ended in utter domination.

Hey, Joe, where you going with that bat in your hand?

It's been commented on a lot, but I don't think we've quite realized the depth in the change in Joe Crede since he came off the DL last season after he broke his finger. His slam the other night was a definite hint he's now an impact player... but how much of one?

Crede's played in 48 regular season games since then, just shy of one third of a season. Using the incredible Baseball Musings day-by-day database, we can see:
  • He's hit .335 since that day. (56-for-167) with an on-base average of .379.
  • He's hit a dozen homers and 11 doubles and is slugging .617.
  • That gives him an OPS of 996.
  • He's walked 11 times, but struck out only 14 times. Effectively he's cut his strikeouts in half.
So, how good is that? Over the same window (9/10/2005 to today):
  • Eric Chavez is at .276/.354/.568. Crede has out-hit Chavez.
  • A-Rod is at .280/.398/.538. Crede has actually out-hit A-Rod.
Actually, he's pretty much out-hit everybody. I won't suggest that this will continue, but the small sample size is starting to get big enough to discount, and anyone who has seen him play knows there is a huge change in his approach and his confidence. It's pretty obvious Crede stopped trying to yank low and away curveballs. I don't know how many other things Crede changed during his down-time. Whatever he changed, he's the best third baseman in the league right now, including that self-important egotistical transplant we all know about.

So what does this mean for Josh Fields, last night's MiLB "star of the day" for the suddenly invicible 23-6 Charlotte Knights? Fields is hitting .307/.374/.511, which is pretty damned good. He is nowhere near as polished a defender as Crede and probably never will be. He may be benefitting from the close fences in Charlotte. But, regardless, you can't say he isn't adjusting to AAA, and a decision will have to be made soon because he's showing signs of being "ready".

It means, in the short term, the serious luxury here allows the White Sox to think over their relationship with Scott Boras. Crede's a home-grown player, a key cog in a high profile championship team, who seems to show signs of blossoming into the star we all hoped he would be.

I expect Fields will be harvested for middle relief if Crede is still hitting .3-something at the All-Star break.

It's been commented that the White Sox have an awful record when playing three or more substitutes. The Cheat first brought this to my attention back on May 2nd. That begs the question of "why"? Here are some observations:
  • The White Sox are 0-5 when Ozuna starts a game
  • The White Sox are 2-4 when Widger starts
  • They are 8-2 when Mackowiak starts in center field, 1-3 when he starts in right
What I think this shows is that Widger to a certain extent and Ozuna to a much larger extent have value off the bench, but perhaps together they sabotage the offense and defense to the point where the team is compromised.

Chris Widger is probably the one player who is "on notice" in my book. He's hitting a weak .211, isn't a developmental prospect, and has seen pitchers roll up a 7.66 ERA in his 47 innings. I know, catcher ERA is not deeply meaningful, or so say all the studies... but if Pierzynski were to get hurt, the White Sox would probably have to reach into Charlotte and get Chris Stewart as the interim regular.

Game 30: Got no time to slow (21-9)

The White Sox bounced back from their Friday night fiasco with a 9-2 extermination of the Royals. Javier Vazquez once again flirted with a no-hitter for five plus and ended up giving up a couple of runs against his favorite punching bag. The White Sox pounded Runelvys Hernandez, with Brian Anderson hitting a home run, Tad Iguchi collecting four hits, and Jim Thome bashing a three-run bomb. Today they send Buehrle out against Mark Redman.

It was a perfect night for the White Sox elsewhere. Detroit's bullpen blew up against the Twins, as Todd Jones couldn't hold a one run lead, and Cleveland was shut down by Joel Piniero out in Microsoftland.

The Cheat quibbles with Black Betsy this weekend and has a comment about Podsednik's loss of speed. I differ, though; speed doesn't slump, per se, it erodes over time. Podsednik's 30 years old, and it is possible that he's lost the half a step that makes him more than a fourth outfielder. This is probably a good thing, though, not a bad thing, in that it is happening before the White Sox do something extremely stupid with him (contractually speaking). Podsednik's value to the White Sox is something that mostly eludes the numbers. If he loses that "something", he's a backup outfielder.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

[He] said it, and now [he'll] regret it

Way back in January, Frank Thomas said that Jim Thome had more injuries than he did last season and is not a better hitter. As a public service, this year the Razor will track their respective statistics and let you be the judge.

Jim Thome 289429284012292626.298.460.723
Frank Thomas26921117205141116.185.276.370

There is a difference between playing in USCF and Oakland. Thomas is hitting .209/.346/.302 on the road, and Thome .300/.417/.660 on the road.

This is the healthy Frank Thomas this year. He's not getting better, either, 2-for-13 in May so far.

There's a growing feeling of hysteria

Lose a tough one to the KC and the hysteria starts to come out. This was Jenks' first blown save, and the closer getting squeezed a little and giving up some doiky little singles can lead to big trouble.

Some of the many observers:
  • The Cheat goes over the top a little with his analysis, and continues his trend of Boone Logan lamentations. Looking at the highlight clip on it was pretty evident that the two-run single off Logan that supplied the eventual winning runs was a lucky poke off a pretty good pitch. He also frets about not using Neil Cotts (the answer to the implied question of where was Neal is "getting over being used a lot lately.") Cheat's also on the warpath about the White Sox overusing the bench (and going 1-5 in games with large numbers of substitutions), here he's spot on.
  • Several non-media sources have commented on a questionably tight strike zone by the home plate umpire contributing to the lengthy Royal rally. Over at the predictable White Sox Interactive website, "PeteWard" observed that "Sox would have won if the bullpen threw strikes. Period. You can't hang this one on the ump." No, but you have to consider it when you evaluate your players. Failure to call out a batter on strikes when he takes a clear strike gives the batter an additional life (ask Angels fans about this one) and once that happens, anything can happen. The pitcher has a responsibility to shake it off and do his best, but when the serendipitous batter flips a single off the end of the bat to left, the non-call becomes significant and needs to be evaluated. I wouldn't be surprised if the Royals did get some benefit of the doubt out of pity from Gerry Davis. Frankly, they need it.
  • Black Betsy as always points out that playing approximately .700 baseball is nothing to sneeze at even if some games don't go the way you want. SuperNoVa's lobbying for bullpen help. It didn't make his post, but in the email he mentions he threw out the names of several Marlin retreats (Franklyn German, Randy Messenger, Todd Wellemeyer). That's the hysterical part (and I mean it in the crazy sense not the funny sense) -- these guys have all proved they aren't part of any solution. Messenger has issued almost 6 walks per 9 innings in his brief major league career; German 102 walks in 135 innings; and Wellemeyer 69 walks in 97 innings. Just because these three have kept the consequences of their extensive histories down for five whole weeks doesn't mean anything. In hindsight, the three more-or-less lucky singles last night in the Royals loss were not the scary part, the four walks were. Walks kill. A few flares here and there don't tell you anything about your pitchers. Smart teams don't panic and start trading valuable talent for flashes in the pan retreads who will more than likely be worse than what they already have.
  • Sox Machine correctly observes that Elarton's excellent starting pitching effort might have had something to do with the Royals' being in the game. Elarton's pitched three really nice games against the White Sox already.
Here's my two cents worth on the bullpen: it's too early to panic because the "indicators" of basic badness just aren't there. The pen's ERA is 4.70, but this is somewhat the result of overmanaging, not performance. Ozzie's issued 8 intentional walks, and has been drawn to the presence of three lefthanders in the bullpen like some kind of manager-crack, frequently changing pitchers for temporary matchups and generally thrashing the bullpen in a way that is reminscent of the worst case scenario for Tony LaRussa. (Ozzie's not alone here; check out , for example, Scioscia's loogy jones now that he's got a notionally reliable lefthanded short guy, and the somewhat predictable catastrophic results of Romero's appearances.)

Politte has not been right and McCarthy has struggled a little, but in McCarthy's case there's a bunch of bad luck involved. McCarthy's given up, what, 15 singles already to go with 2 doubles and a home run. This is not the profile of a pitcher who is getting hammered, it's the profile of a pitcher who is not getting much luck with batted balls.

Jenks issued his second and third walks of the season so far, and pitched for a third consecutive day for only the third time in his career. Each previous time has resulted in a poor outing. He blew his first save in ten chances. Let's keep this in perspective, shall we?

Oh, yeah... lost in all this was Jon Garland's good performance. He gave up only one run, that the result of a double just out of reach of Ross Gload's dive and a single, in seven workmanlike innings. I worry far more about Garland's lack of strikeouts and his penchant for the long ball than I do about Boone Logan.

By the way, this blog is now one year old.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Like the sun going down on me (20-9)

This is baseball's revenge for stealing that Wednesday game against the Mariners. Blowing a 2-1 game in the ninth to the Royals and losing 5-4. Panic!

This was the first time Ozzie tried to use Jenks on three straight days this season. He's only done this twice before, 9/18-20 last year and 9/28-10/1 last year. Both previous times they tried this, Jenks has struggled, giving up runs. It is quite likely he just can't pitch that much. Cotts wasn't available (I assume) because of two straight appearances. Therefore, it looks like the pitching staff is still kind of winded from the 11 inning game the other night and Ozzie's newfound matchup tinkering.

The great thing about the White Sox is they send Vazquez and Buehrle out the next two games.They face Runelvys Hernandez, who most of the White Sox lineup absolutely own.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Because of the wonderful things he does (19-8)

Pablo Ozuna didn't stop tying a game in the bottom of the ninth with a shocking 2-out solo shot. In extras he hustled a two-out groundball single up the middle into a double (essentially stealing second on Jeremy Reed) and scoring on Uribe's flare to win the game 6-5 over the Mariners. The White Sox had taken a 4-1 lead on Crede's slam, then given all four runs back in one of those painful innings the White Sox didn't have much last season. Ozuna saved the day.

Ozuna is now hitting .524 (11-for-21). Here's hoping Ozzie has the sense to realize that this won't persist over 250 at bats.

There's a lot of whining this week about booing. The fans in Cleveland got a scolding or two for booing Jim Thome. I don't have a problem with it. Fans have a right to boo anybody they want to. They have the moral high ground if:
  • The player left their team for more money plain and simple, or
  • The player said or did something really, really obnoxious
Cleveland fans have every right to boo Thome. He left for money. White Sox fans would be within their rights to boo Bartolo Colon as well. White Sox fans wouldn't boo Aaron Rowand because he didn't leave for money, he left because he had to. Now, the booing of Pierzynski in Anaheim (and hitting him with a pitch) was beyond the pale; Pierzynski's sin was being a red-ass baseball player.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Believe it or not, I'm swinging at air (18-8)

Mark Buehrle versus C. C. Sabathia turned out out to be a stinker as Ozzie sent out a lineup chock full o' subs and Mark Buehrle sent out his evil twin in a 7-1 Indians win. The White Sox kept putting runners on -- 15, for a .357 on base percentage -- but they left 14 on base. Travis Hafner, a.k.a the Project Donkey, slammed a first inning three-run shot and the Indians later fattened their lead, partly courtesy of home plate umpire Jerry Meals blowing a play at the plate. Still, with their low-wattage lineup and Buehrle having an off-day, it wasn't going to happen anyway. The Cheat points out that the White Sox record strongly correlates to how many regulars are subbed for. Basically, with 3+ subs, they play .200 ball (1-4). After Jermaine Dye left to nurse his nagging calf, only five regulars were left in the game (and two of those being the slumping Juan Uribe and Brian Anderson). This one wasn't meant to be.

Now, some might argue that given that this is the Indians, the White Sox should try to win at all costs. Eric Wedge started his regular versus-lefties lineup. I don't know about that. I know Victor Martinez is a durable catcher, but his playing time so far this year has been absolutely brutal. He's caught 220 innings so far, of a possible 238. Given that the Indians pitching so far has been (5.54) pretty bad, that's a lot of pitches to catch, and a lot of wear and tear. The Indians' backup catcher is Kelly Shoppach, who isn't a bad player at all, so it makes very little sense at this point to just ride the regulars into the dirt.

I wish I hadn't ripped Jhonny boy a bit back; he must have read my gibes because he hit the heck out of the ball the last two days. He's still not a #3 hitter.

As for the title line, it refers of course to Brian Anderson. Patience is a good thing, but he's now 10-for-71 with 4 extra base hits, 9 walks, and 25 strikeouts. That's pretty horrible. Mackowiak isn't a solution even part time, which leaves the White Sox either nibbling at some washed up geriatric or bringing up Jerry Owens if Anderson doesn't break out of this funk soon. I've just about had it. [[Question: How many of the White Sox starting pitchers have higher lifetime major league batting averages than center fielder Brian Anderson? Answer: Three. Javier Vazquez (.214), Freddy Garcia (.194), and Jon Garland (.167). ]]

Speaking of washed up geriatrics, the White Sox signed Jeff Nelson to a minor-league contract today. This probably means that the Sox have officially given up on Dustin Hermanson. I'm not wild at all about this, as Nelson's struggled for several years. A slider pitcher, Nelson's developed into a nibbler as his fastball vanished. They didn't sign this guy to shore up the Charlotte pen. The best likely outcome is probably the Yankees desperately trying to trade for Nelson in July and Williams picking up a prospect on the cheap.

With my heart in my mouth (18-7)

The White Sox held off the charging Indians, nursing a 7-0 lead to a heart-stopping 8-6 victory at the Jake. Paul Konerko's three-run shot in the first, a bunch of Podsednik steals, and a solid Javier Vazquez left the White Sox with a 7-1 lead after 6. Brandon McCarthy, however, continued his road woes, loading the bases on a couple of singles and a walk and then watching Travis Hafner his a towering slam just inside the RF foul pole to make it 7-5. Jim Thome drove in Scott Podsednik for an insurance run, but then the Indians rallied to put a couple of men on, drive in a run, and then watch Bobby Jenks blow away the last two hitters (both of whom could have won the game in dramatic fashion with taters) to seal a victory.

From the post-game quotes, it's clear the near-miss left the Indians with a very bad taste in their mouths. Turning a blowout into a close loss envigorates young, on-the-rise teams. It doesn't envigorate contenders, it makes them frustrated. The Indians have a tired bullpen, a catcher who desperately needs a game off, and a rehabbing pitcher starting a noon game against the hottest team in the league. The White Sox are actually favored this morning.

It says something, I think, about Joe Crede's shocking change in performance that he was 1-for-4 with a walk in a game where he was invisible. At .310/.362/.529, he's playing as well or better than we hoped when he was tearing up Winston-Salem almost a decade ago.

Cheat follows the time-honored White Sox fan tradition of picking apart the way the Indians came back to make it "interesting". I've got no quibbles with his observations, but he missed the two critical (as it turned out) outs Boone Logan got in the seventh. After Hafner's slam, Logan came in and shut down the Indian rally in short order, despite facing Martinez and the sickeningly hot Ben Broussard.

It's just hard to say anything negative about a team that's won 17 out of their last 20 games. Since the shocking Saturday, April 8 4-3 loss to the Royals to drop the team to 1-4 (just before I left on an airplane for a quick trip to England), the White Sox have lost once to the Blue Jays and twice to the Mariners. That's it. It would be nice if Brian Anderson and Juan Uribe would start hitting, and if Garcia and Garland would start pitching the way we'd like. But it hasn't really hurt yet.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

I believe I'll dust my broom (17-7)

Well! When Orlando Cabrera lined a two-run shot over the wall in the fifth to give the Angels a 5-3 lead, I thought two things: (1) two out of three won't be so bad, and (2) Jon Garland just is not the same pitcher he was last season. The second thought is mostly true (the Angels scored 5 runs off him with underlying numbers that ought to get them

The obvious problem with the first thought is the White Sox are better than even I think they are. They don't make a lot of mental mistakes, and they never give up. This is a professional team in the highest sense of that word. And, like a consummate professional team, when faced with a deficit, they systematically got the two runs back in the very next inning. And they can still play Ozzieball, tacking on a go-ahead run with a textbook top-of-the-ninth small-ball rally (single, pinch runner, steal, sacrifice bunt, wild pitch). Neil Cotts took the ninth and got his first save. If anyone was wondering, "Where was Jenks", I think the little detail of Anderson and Erstad being lefthanded hitters (and Jenks pitching the previous two nights) was the reason why. Cotts and Thornton looked good, and so did Politte as the White Sox stifled the Angels over the last three innings.

As I said, the White Sox don't make a lot of mental mistakes. The Angels did, when Tim Salmon ran his team out of the sixth, getting doubled off second while trying to score on a Texas Leaguer, and getting a baserunner killed on an ill-advised play in the top of the seventh with no outs. The Angels didn't get another baserunner after wasting two in a row.

The only batter hit by a pitch was Joe Crede. So much for the Ozzie-is-evil theories of Angel fans for one day. I'm waiting for news of Escobar's punishment. I'll wait a long time, I bet.

Other division notes as April comes to an end:
  • Detroit continues to treat the once-might Minnesota Twins as their personal whipping boys. Are they for real? Probably not. They are getting spectacular pitching, but Robertson and Verlander have very clear histories of fading on the backstretch. Baseball Prospectus 2006 points out, usefully, that Jim Leyland has a history of riding his starting pitchers into the ground. They are getting spectacular hitting from players who usually wind up in the doctor's office sooner or later. Leyland doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word "day off". Detroit fans centainly deserve a thrill, and this team has enough veterans and talent to win 85 games, but I really don't think they can hang with the White Sox or the Indians for more than a couple of months.
  • Minnesota looks absolutely awful. Silva, Lohse, and Radke can't get anybody out at all, and except for Lohse, it's because of the long ball. Very low strikeout ratios are often a warning that a pitcher is living on the edge, and all three of them look like they slipped off into the abyss. The Twins don't have the offense to overcome mediocrity on the mound. This probably would mean Liriano into the rotation, except the Twins' financially have to try to recover at least two of the three tanked pitchers. However, looking forward, I can see Ron Gardenhire playing the role of British Vice-Admiral Beatty at Jutland, saying as his elegant battle cruisers exploded unexpectedly, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
  • Cleveland insists on plugging SS Jhonny Peralta into the three hole in their lineup, despite his .230/.284/.360 line. As Black Betsy graciously and generously points out, I was skeptical of Peralta's true level of ability before the season based on a record fattened by victimizing mop-up men last season. So far Peralta looks like he ought to be hitting ninth. But, hey, I'll take it. I love it when good teams misuse their resources, especially in the same division.
Thanks to Black Betsy for the Public Service Announcement. He really is too kind. I really don't care how many people read this; I write this blog for me. But I don't mind sharing it. If you're reading this far, thanks.

Somebody's Gonna Hurt Someone (16-7)

Jose Contreras won again, giving up one run in 8 1/3 to the Angels. A Thome homer and a long-sequence rally by the White Sox plated two runs and the bullpen held on in the ninth when Edgardo Alfonso lined out to Juan Uribe with the tying and winning runs aboard.

Kelvim Escobar, obviously still annoyed at AJ Pierzynski about the ALCS, hit him with a 1-1 pitch in the second inning. This prompted the umpires to issue the usual warnings. Mike Scioscia whined about being warned when Escobar did the obvious, Guillen complained about the constant parallel warnings when his batters get hit, saying his batters get hit all the time and he doesn't have a history of retaliation. He has a point. For the record, last season White Sox hitters were hit 79 times, Sox opponents 52. The year before, it was 62-42. So far this year, it's 11-7. So, over the last 345 games, Ozzie's teams have been hit 152 times and hit opponnets 99 times. Ozzie's right. The umpire should either have only warned the Angels or, actually, simply tossed Escobar on the spot. Pierzynski is the only batter Escobar has hit all year. Given that he hit him the first time he saw him, on the third pitch, the idea that the action could be random strains credibility to the breaking point. At this point, the league should probably just tell Mr. Escobar he can take 5 games off; if they don't do something, the White Sox will be in the position of having to retaliate at some point, baseball being slightly savage about such things.

I assume Chris Widger starts tomorrow's day game, giving the Angel boo-birds a day of rest. Now, Widger's 1-for-13, and because last season was anomalous, you have to look down at the minors and ask yourself what's there. Chris Stewart is there; Stewart's a brilliant defensive catcher without much of a bat, kind of like Chris Widger.

Other note: Cleveland lost 7-5 to the Rangers, in part because Grady Sizemore got caught off first base on a line drive on a game-ending double play. Nice to see Grady pull a rock. Maybe it will bother him for a week?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What was wood became alive

Question: When does a 15-7 record make you uneasy about a season?

Answer: When you don't get there the way you expected.

There's more than one quirky thing about statistics. Consider that the White Sox were expected to continue to play the way they did last year, but through the first 22 games, most of us fans are secretly worried about the team because they aren't. The starting pitching hasn't dominated the way we wanted it to, the team is not playing "Ozzieball" at all...

The truth is, the pitching is dominating. Two statistical trends are warping our perception of the data. First, run scoring is up across the board. The median number of runs scored in the AL already is 109, and the median team ERA is 4.75. Second, the White Sox have, through either coincidence or offical scoring decisions, allowed only one unearned run so far this season. This means the staff ERA (4.11) is virtually indisinguishable from the runs-allowed rate (4.16). This is the third lowest rate in the league, behind only the Tigers (3.64) and Yankees (4.11), both of whom play in more pitcher-friendly parks. The defense has contributed, of course. So far Brian Anderson's defensive statistics have been eye-popping, and Iguchi has looked a lot better (when it isn't raining).

The offense, however, is a different story. A wonderful story. Second only to the Indians in runs scored in the league, third in walks (walks!), third in homers, seventh in steals, and tied for ninth with the A's and Rangers in sac bunts. I doubt that there are a dozen people who, before the season, would have predicted this change in personality by the offense. The homers, sure, but the walks? Rest assured, it can't continue... or can it? Uribe, Podsednik, and Anderson have been pretty bad at the plate and the team has scored six runs a game anyway. Sure, Thome's starting to cool off, and Konerko and Dye can't keep it up forever. But this is a more balanced offensive team, and it's starting to look more like the 2004 team would have if not for the injuries, except with better defense and much better, deeper pitching.

Watch The Monkey Get Hurt (15-7)

Whew. What was once an 8-2 lead over the Angels dwindled to 8-5 as Brandon McCarthy struggled for a second time. Freddy Garcia teased a quality start out of nothing, and in relief Neil Cotts pitched well and Bobby Jenks, called upon to extinguish Vladimir Guerrero in the ninth before the Rally Monkey could get warmed up, whiffed him with a curve. Garcia's velocity is still down (this is a common problem with WBC participants, apparently) and he's got control problems too. Thank you Mister Selig for your silly stunt.

Baseball was meant to be played in the Eastern and Central time zones; if you don't believe me, ask anybody east of the Rockies. Saturday mornings after staying up late to track baseball games tend to bring out the naked blade of the Razor:
  • It is always good for White Sox fans to see Jeff Weaver get pummeled. Weaver was a second-round draft choice of the White Sox in 1997, but he refused to sign. He has since pitched for the Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, and now for the Angels. He goes on the list with Bobby Seay and Bobby Hill for White Sox fans, the list of players we love to see fail. Yes, we know it's a business, and being drafted isn't a slave auction, but we don't have to root for them, now do we?
  • Speaking of business, the Angels are an interesting one. They won the World Series in 2002 with a combination of home-grown talent, shrewd trades, and scrap-heap reclamation projects (see White Sox, 2005). The next year, they had an off season. The response from owner Artie Moreno has been to try to buy a championship, Yankees-style. In the 2003-4 offseason, they signed Kelvin Escobar, Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen, and Vladimir Guerrero. In the 2004-5 offseason, they signed Steve Finley, Paul Byrd, and Orlando Cabrera. Last offseason, they signed Weaver and we all know they went hard after Paul Konerko. It's hard for me to root for teams that hire that many mercenaries, players whose original teams (and fans) really want them back. Paul Konerko made a comment last fall that was telling, something about how he couldn't think about leaving without thinking of some kid wearing his jersey being crushed if he left. The Angels are full of people who don't care about that at all. And baseball's future is poorer for it.
  • I have been impressed that the incessant whining about last fall has stopped. The Angels spent a bit of time bitching about the Pierzynski Affair and the Finley Controversy, although mysteriously they all seem to forget Cabrera's flagrant interference with a double play in Game One that scored the winning run, or Scot Shields getting a key checked-swing "third strike" on Paul Konerko that shouldn't have been called. I guess the Angels channeled their anger into buying a few more soulless vagabond players instead of pretending that they wuz robbed.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thanks, that was[n't] fun (14-7)

Dropping two of three to the Mariners is not a good way to start a West Coast trip, but it was unsurprising. The White Sox were handcuffed by two lefthanders, bookending a bombardment of Joel Piniero, and escaped from Washington state with only one of the three games.

Unrelated comments:
  • Is there anybody else out there who is completely sick of the NFL draft already? Next they're will be breathless reporting of Vince Young's breakfast menu and Reggie Bush's latest stool sample. We're talking about 22-year-old kids. At least baseball tends to be more measured about their entry-level talent.
  • Baseball announced that they will "not celebrate" Barry Bonds' 715th home run. Give me a break. When Bonds hit 661, the Giants made a huge deal about it. Either it's a real accomplishment, or it's not. If it's a real accomplishment, give it its due. If it's not, suspend him. Yeah, the steroid era was bad for the game's reputation, and we all pretty much know in our heart of hearts that Barry was doing something naughty. So were a lot of the pitchers he was facing, and the owners were cynically bringing in the fences 30 feet, and God knows what to believe about the baseballs. I don't see ownership giving back the money. Bonds may seem like a jerk, but he's hit 711 home runs, which is more than all but two people in history. If he's actually doing it dishonestly, stop him. If you can't prove that, shut the hell up. This limbo where Barry Bonds is being semi-ignored is just hypocrisy.
  • Cleveland's bombardment of Boston yesterday seemed to me to be aided and abetted by more than a slight bit of homerism from the home plate umpire. The Indians got several close pitchers on both sides of the plate. It's probably just a coincidence, but the idea that the umpires could manage pennant races for increased excitement has to have crossed somebody's mind at some point; the Indians were in danger of messing up the pennant race early by soiling the bed; and the Yankees need some help as they have spectacularly poor timing in the run scoring escapades.
  • Will super-prospect Delmon Young's action, hitting an umpire with a thrown bat in AAA on Wednesday, cost him the rest of the season? Anything less sets a terrible example for the rest of the game.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Baby, Baby, Where Did Our Love Go? (13-6)

The White Sox started a bunch o' backups (Cintron, Mackowiak, Ozuna) and phoned in a 3-runs-in-11-innings depressing performance in a 4-3 loss. Garland's looking for his mojo, which he left somewhere in 2005. At least Detroit lost, too, and the White Sox are done with Jamie Moyer for a while.

Ex-Sox watch:
  • Frank Thomas, with Oakland, is supposedly completely healthy. As of right now, he's 11-for-65 (.169) with 2 doubles, 4 homers, 6 walks, an OBP around .240. I've seen him bat maybe 16 times this year because of the constant Ranger games and he looks absolutely terrible. He *looks* great in the on-deck circle, but when he gets to the plate, his bat seems noticeably slower than last year, he's chasing marginal pitches, and he runs like he's got a bowling ball attached to his foot. As of right now, he does not have even one opposite field hit this season. All of his hits have been to left or left center. Is Billy Beane losing patience? I mean, Thomas is healthy, which is good for him, but he's sucking, which isn't. They keep letting him try to hit his way out of the mess, but it just isn't working so far.
  • Carl Everett, with Seattle, is walking a lot. So, where was this last year? He's only hitting .222, but with more walks than hits, he's got a pretty good OBP.
  • Aaron Rowand's doing fine in Philly, hitting just over .300 but, as usual, not walking at all. I don't think they're expecting him to, so it's not a big deal.
  • Geoff Blum picked up where he left off, at 2-for-18 with the Padres.
  • Timo Perez is in AAA, with the Memphis Redbirds.
  • Willie Harris is back in the majors after initially starting the season with the PawSox. He's hitting a robust .100.
  • Luis Vizcaino looks decent in the desert. allowing 2 runs in 10 innings.
  • El Duque, well, doesn't, at 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA.
  • Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood are in Reading (not in the Gaol, hopefully) and pitching nicely by all accounts.
One other comment: Last night, Jacque Jones hit a 3-run home run against the Marlins to give the Cubs the lead in a game they won 6-3. He stood at the plate and admired his shot, which just cleared the basket in left (opposite) field. It's nice to know that you can take the guy out of Minnesota but he's still a bit of a twinkie.

Monday, April 24, 2006

They say she comes on a pale horse, but I'm sure I hear a train

The White Sox killed Minnesota yesterday and now travel to Seattle and Southern California for an Oakland-free road trip. I wonder, will Bat-Girl have a Legovision re-enactment of the Twins getting their heads handed to them? Or was it their butts painted blue?

I always dread Seattle. The White Sox usually play poorly in Seattle, ever since the Mariners first set up shop in the KingTomb almost 30 years ago. Safeco isn't quite as bizarre, but still it's weird. Seattle was the scene of the final act of the Billy-Koch-as-closer era two years ago, when, the day before I was to fly to San Diego to spend a few days testing the Titleist Club and Ball Performance Monitor, I watched Koch explode on ESPN as Jon Miller described the debacle. It was a microcosm of the season, but, at the time, we didn't know it. The White Sox went 4-2 in King County last year, so maybe this isn't exactly Oakland. And any stadium with trains is a stadium to be lauded!

Speaking of ESPN, last night Joe Morgan told a story that struck me as bizarre. Describing the "Alfonso Soriano to left field" saga, Morgan told us that the reason Soriano moved to left was that Jose Vidro can't play left field. Sure. It couldn't be because Soriano is a wretched second baseman, now could it? I love Joe Morgan, and I know he has an emmy, but come on, Joe, we're smarter than that.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Everyday they write the book

Baseball Prospectus 2006, Goldman et al, Workman, $18.95

Two nights ago, stuck in a Barnes and Noble waiting out my daughter's community service (honor society, not criminal justice!), I caved and picked up a copy of BP2006. BP is must-read for anybody interested in the data-analysis side of baseball, from general managers to player agents to serious fans. The book and the website are always thought-provoking, usually entertaining, and often well written as well.

I just wish they weren't so damned arrogant. From the blurbs on the back cover trumpeting what they got right to the self-congratulatory throwing-around of "best" everywhere inside (which they are, but they don't have to keep telling me this), the book is indelibly marred by the constant self-promotion. Take this: "In this book, Baseball Prospectus presents the most advanced analytical view..." (p. 1). Or this: "PECOTA is already the best system of its kind" (p. 6). Both may be true. Both are throwaway sentences that should have been edited out, as they convey no information (other than that the author is inordinately proud) and waste paper and ink. BP is to baseball analysis what Ein Heldenleben was to symphony orchestra performances: bombast to the point of vulgarity critically marring elegant and deft work elsewhere.

The saving grace is the book is an ensemble production, and contains priceless essays like Gary Huckabay's "Where Does Statistical Analysis Fall Down? Reality and Perception" and "Iceberg Stories", maybe the best baseball-as-business analysis I've read in forever. There are thousands of clever , well-informed player comments. At 553 pages, there are enough nuggets to entertain for months.

Then there's figure 1, on page 510, the most pompous example of oversimplification imaginable. This figure presents a computer-science-like decision tree for a stolen base attempt, showing the three outcomes of the decision: no attempt, successful steal, and base stolen. Fine. Then Table 7 shows the breakeven percentage to 1/10th percent. My problem with this is the outcome tree for "attempt steal" is indistinguishable in the data from "try hit and run" (or "try run and hit"), and the number of outcomes is not three, it's dozens. The overwhelming majority of the time, an attempted steal involves a pitch delivered to a batter who may or may not swing. They ignore "catcher throws ball into center field", or "pitcher balks", or "batter fouls off pitch", or "batter lines into double play". A stolen base or a caught stealing, as data, is the precipitate in the bottom of the flask. The decision to run (or not) may be made by the manager, and is several events away from the actual recorded data column. These factors are difficult to divine, happen far more often than the percents place in the numbers would indicate, but ignoring them poisons the subsequent analysis fatally. Drawing the conclusion (as Keith Woolner does) that Tad Iguchi was the least opportune base stealer in MLB last year is like Sherlock Holmes solving cases from his monographs on tobacco ash -- fanciful, fun, and utter fiction. Printing three-digit breakeven numbers from this oversimplified decision tree leads to analysis paralysis and, rather than contributing to the knowledge base, just fuels the skepticism so elegantly detailed in the Huckabay essay's Woodwardian interview section. Drawing conclusions about player abilities from this noise is hubris worthy of Greek tragedy.

So buy the book, it's entertaining (and lacks the Kenny Williams character assassination this year), but don't take them at their words. It's hardly scholarly, as the peer review is a bunch of people interested in making money from the book, and the methods are usually held as proprietary data. Hold your nose through the self promotion, as hard as it is.

Pore over everything in my CV (11-5)

Now having whipped the Twins mercilessly two nights in a row, the Pale Hose look to complete a sweep this afternoon, sending Jose Contreras against the suddenly scuffling Carlos Silva.

SuperNoVa is understandably worried about Freddy Garcia's start and critical of a Daily Herald article praising it. I'm in the middle. Yeah, Garcia gave up a few line-outs; but the Twins got just one real extra base hit off him (Hunter's home run) because Mauer's double was aided and abetted by Mackowiak's misjudgement. I think Garcia's "stuff" has been deteriorating for more than a year, and he is obviously transitioning to a finesse style. He is not different from the pitcher last fall throwing complete games in the ALCS, except his spring routine was more than a little disturbed by the World Silliness. His numbers are warped by pitching in the fifth inning of a cloudburst against the Blue Jays, a game where he couldn't grip the baseball as the umpires tried desperately to get to the rulebook official game definition. Garcia is open about all of this. His velocity looked up a bit from previous starts last night, and while he flirted with disaster a bit, scattering 5 singles, one walk, a lucky double, and a Torii Hunter homer through 6 1/3 is successful. I wouldn't be too worried yet.

Now, I am worried about Boone Logan, the title subject of this post. I'm not a big fan of the idea of letting Class A fringe prospects win major league jobs in spring training (Rule 5 tricks excepted). It almost never works. For every Kent Hrbek or Scott Radinsky, there are a lot of failures. Logan has pretty good stuff, I admit, but he looks like an A ball pitcher out there, spraying pitches all over the place. I know, I know, he's the back of the bullpen. But last night he singlehandedly started a very dangerous grass fire, one that ended up being about ten Torii Hunter feet from an Epic Collapse, because he just isn't ready for this. I know Kenny Williams would never do this with a position player. (Micah Schnurstein is not going to play in Chicago for a long, long time. ) Now, is there an alternative? Sure. Don't carry so bloody many pitchers. The White Sox do not need all these spare parts. At least they aren't mindlessly carrying twelve.

Other notes:
  • From the department of borderline trash statistics (or should it be trash data?) comes the "Jim Thome has scored in X consecutive games". This says as much about Konerko and Dye as it does about Thome -- somebody as slow as Jim Thome has scored 13 runs in addition to his home runs. Opponents have intentionally walked Thome six times already, and the approach has backfired on at least half of them.
  • The Indians have to be worried about Paul Byrd. This guy was expensive, supposed to replace the AL ERA champion, and gets by on the craft more than talent. So far he's had three awful Ruffcornesque starts in four tries. With Sabathia's durability and conditioning obviously questionable, the Indian pitching hardly looks contender-quality this morning, especially after getting toasted by the Orioles and Royals...
  • The Tigers are showing an uncharacteristic amount of fight so far. It's a good thing the White Sox handed them their heads or they'd be getting pretty cocky already.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Eager Pack Lift Up Their Pitchers (6-5)

Paul Konerko slammed two two-run homers and Mark Buerhle slammed the door on the Toronto Blue Jays to win a 4-2 pleasant afternoon game. This spoiled the debut of ridiculously overpaid Blue Jay mercenary A. J. Burnett.

Tomorrow is Freddy Garcia versus Josh Towers. Towers bothers me, a mediocrity who I always remember as bringing his A game against the White Sox.

Random notes on a random Saturday:
  • Tad Iguchi made one of the most unique defensive plays ever in this game, throwing out Bengie Molina on a chopper from a prone position in the ninth. The play looked more like one of those plays where someone suffers a sickening injury. The ESPNews reader had to get in a cheap statement about Molina running slow, you just know he wouldn't have said that if the play were made by, oh, Robinson Cano...
  • Tell me it's wrong to feel some Schadenfreude with Frank Thomas' sluggish start. Frank was easily myfavorite player ever, but seeing him in that Oakland outfit -- well, he's not the Big Hurt any more, he's some alien creature playing for the Green Evil. Yes, I know, a good season of two would cement his place in Cooperstown. And just as I write this, Frank Thomas slammed a Vincente Padilla cookie over the left-center-field wall to tie the game in Oakland, in the middle of a three-pitch, three-home-run barage. I want Frank to do well... but not too well...
  • There's been an incredible amount of baloney written this spring about Bobby Jenks. He lost his command. He lost ten miles per hour off his fastball. He's gained six hundred pounds. He's suspected in three unsolved criminal cases. He's the secret Grand Master of the Priory of Sion in the next Dan Brown novel. You name it, it's been written... well, almost. The truth is, he hasn't been really sharp, but he's been decently effective, and he's got a 5:1 K:W ratio, and four saves.
  • I didn't see any mention of it anywhere, but did anybody else notice that umpiring crews get rearranged? This means Bruce Froemming's crew from last year with Mark Winters, Jerry Meals, and Hunter Wendlestedt was partially broken up. Meals is now over with Mike Reilly and Hunter Wendlestedt is with Randy Marsh. That series in Oakland last year where the old Crew F (apropos) reamed the White Sox out of two games in a row may be repeated, but it will be different people.
  • As bad as we White Sox fans feel about Garland and Vazquez struggling, remember the shocking truth: they are the fourth and fifth starters. Buehrle's rounding into top form and Contreras has been solid.

I'm Not A Number (5-5)

The White Sox survived Jon Garland's Thursday afternoon hammering but not Javier Vazquez' Friday night horror show and now have an even record of 5-5.

Ten games into the season the White Sox have gotten mostly frightening outings by their starting pitching, several frightening outings by the bullpen, and no offensive production from Brian Anderson or Scott Podsednik. Ordinarily, I'd be worried as hell about the import of all these dreadful numeric omens, puzzling over my vast collections of data, looking for the telltale numbers that somewhere, somehow, showed me that the poor performances were flukes. But I'm not.

Not because I'm not worried; I am. The White Sox look a lot more like the bash-and-pray 2003-2004 version than last year's magical mystery tour, and I don't think this is going to work at all. I don't think this team can out-bash the Indians, and the Twins look like they've struck gold with their newest crop of pitchers already. It's that my worrying has changed. I've lost the sabermetric religion.

I now realize that all those many years of poring over statistics was more about searching for a way to believe the White Sox would finally win than anything else. I was hoping that somewhere, buried in those numbers, would be a key, a clue that the final victory was coming, and the years of frustration and sorrow and, yes, ridicule were over. Somehow the numbers would tell me that the quest was concluding.

Last October, the White Sox found their Promised Land, and the numbers lied to us all year. They told us the team was 7 games worse than their record, that the team was lucky, that the team wasn't real. They lied. And now, as a result, I just find it hard to believe in them any more. So I let my subscription to Baseball Prospectus lapse. I didn't buy any statistical annuals. I am basking in the afterglow of what was, really, the Impossible Dream.

So Cliff Politte is getting hammered, and Vazquez is all out of sorts, and Garland looks worse than he's ever looked before. So what? Things will (probably) be fine. Who do you believe, me, or those lying spreadsheets?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Slammin' (4-4)

Mr. Jim Thome v Frank Thomas so far:

Jim Thome82699205882
Frank Thomas72542101446

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (1-3)

Jon Garland blew a six-run lead to the Kansas City Royals. Facing 27 hitters, he only managed to induce four groundouts, and on a blustery night with two subs starting in the outfield, the Royals took advantage of some outfielding miscues to score 9 runs off Garland and two more runs off Matt Thornton.

There' s a roster question here. The White Sox are carrying three utility infielders (Ozuna, Mackowiak, and Cintron) and three first basemen (Thome, Konerko, and Gload). This leaves them with one competent backup outfielder (Mackowiak can play anywhere). No, I'm not pining for Timo Perez, but I think he probably catches that wind-aided "double" that was the linchpin of the 5-run KC inning. Fortunately, not every game will be played in howling spring windstorms.

This makes three horrible starts out of four from the White Sox' central asset, the rotation. Should we be worried?

Not yet. I haven't done a systematic study, but because of DirecTV's free preview of their fan-crack called MLB Extra Innings, I've seen a lot of games so far, and a lot of good pitchers are getting hammered -- Barry Zito for one. As a convenient excuse, I'm going to blame the so-called World Baseball Classis, which fouled up spring training routines for virtually every team.

That said, so far, the White Sox have 2003 Angels written on their foreheads... time to grab the washcloths and the Lava.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Casual Conversations

Over at Black Betsy, each game so far this season has been the subject of what's called an "ERV box score". Essentially, what SuperNoVa is doing is computing the net change in expected run value between two situations and crediting the batter with it. I'm sure he's published which matrix he's using. I had wondered about doing a similar thing every since I picked up a copy of The Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorne and Pete Palmer two decades ago. Palmer developed the matrix as a basis for his linear weights method (LWTS). SuperNoVa actually did it.

(Aside: I didn't actually like Hidden Game, by the way; I didn't like the "I've got a secret and I'm willing to share it with you" tone of the book. Hidden Game reads like a college professor teaching a lecture hall of 500 students with a big VU-graph projector, absolutely certain that his information is infallible. The rival Bill James Baseball Abstracts of the time were like a seminar taught in a bar; you were with friends, and this guy James was always careful to explain how his formulas were created, and to assert that they were quite imperfect, but they were the best ones he had. The Palmer/Thorne book was off-putting where the James books were inviting. I have no idea who was "more accurate".)

I don't think the method is perfect, by the way. It has three obvious weaknesses, all related to lack of context, and all only pratically "corrected for" by assuming "all else is equal":
  • The batter is not the only factor in the outcome. Not only the pitcher is important; the fielders, ballpark, and umpires all can change the "expected" outcome of an at-bat. A two-out bases-loaded grounder in the hole that is incorrectly called "safe" on the throw to second would score as a +1.00 instead of the earned value, which is negative. (I'd say how negative but I can't locate my copy of Hidden Game.)
  • All situations don't have equal best-case or worst-case scenarios. A way to improve the method, I think, would assess both the change in expected value and the best and worst case scenarios possible for each situtation, and grade the outcome as a percentage, perhaps called "Net ERV efficiency". I don't think this is a substitute for the raw numbers, but as a separate metric it would be meaningful.
  • All situations don't have equal leverage. This is best solved with win probabilities, which other people have done.
So it's not perfect, but it is probably very useful. I think the Net ERV per plate apperance, the average Net ERV efficiency, and the Win Probability Score would make a very interesting (and inter-related) trio of numbers to go with the New Holy Trinity (AVG,OBP, and SLG).

As I wrote, I insist I did think of this idea twenty years ago; but I discarded it because I assumed somebody had already done it and discovered that it wasn't worth the extra work as it closely tracked the New Holy Trinity. Why? Because, over the course of a season, "All Else Is Equal". Now I'm wise enough to believe it's never been done (much) because it's been too much work, and twenty years ago, before STATS and Project Scoresheet/Retrosheet and the cornucopia on the Web, getting play-by-play data for most major league baseball games was impossible unless you got a scoresheet (or you kept it yourself).

What would be most interesting is if there were sustainable season-to-season correlations between (ERV/PA,NERV,WPS) that didn't track the New Holy Trinity, because it would mean that the idea of "productive outs" truly does have more merit than the majority "All Else Is Equal" crowd insists!

Working My Way Back To You (1-2)

I didn't post a thing in spring training. The reason why is pretty simple: it's hard to get worked up about meaningless spring training games when your team won the World Series. But now they count again, and the opening shots are fired. And I'm roused by kind words from Super Nova at the always must-read Black Betsy. (I only wish I'd thought of his excellent Cato pun, Minnesota Twins delenda est first. If his link brought you here, welcome to my own little bit of White Sox insanity.)

The White Sox won a rain-soaked opener in a blowout, lost a blowout, then lost a hard-fought 1-run 11-inning game in their opening series. Having actually won a 1-run game against the White Sox, Indian fans are planning their postseason already. Some White Sox fans are already considering which brand of straight razor would be most effective.
  • Ozzie's being roasted in blog-effigy for using Boone Logan to face Travis Hafer with a one-run lead in the eighth in game 3. Hafner, of course, tagged a solo shot to tie the game. This ignores the obvious point that, in game 2, Logan had coaxed a GiDP from Hafner, and that Hafner's career stats against LHP are (.242/.353/.418). So, should Cotts have been in the game at that point? Well, maybe, but both pitchers had racked up 30 pitches in game 2, and Neil wasn't terribly effective when he did pitch. Sooner or later you have to let Logan face the Hafners of the world, or else you have to get somebody else to do it. Given that, I think Guillen's risk was worthwhile, especially since we are discussing the tying run, and not the go-ahead run, in a home game.
  • Konerko looks like he's carrying the weight of his offseason contract. He had two chances to win the game, in the ninth with the winning run at second and two outs, and in the eleventh with the tying run at first, and struck out both times. He went 1 for 13 despite facing mostly pitchers he's pounded (Cliff Lee, 7-for-21 with 2 homers; Westbrook, 13-for-35 with five extra base hits).
  • In general, you can't worry too much about losing 2 of 3 when you can see most of your players playing well below their norms. Konerko's not the only one sucking; Podsednik 0 for 13; Uribe, 1 for 9; Crede, 1 for 6. Considering that Thome, Pierzynski, and Iguchi ripped the cover off the ball, you can't say it was all Cleveland pitching. Several of the hitters were just out of synch.
  • Further, both Garcia and Buehrle were just awful. Both pitchers have very long track records, and certainly you expect them to turn it around.
The White Sox send Garland, Vazquez, and Buehrle against the Royals. I'm sure they aren't looking forward to it.